Thursday, May 25, 2006

Back on set!

Whoo-hoo! A great day and I am so thankful for it! And yes, cliche as it may be - God does work in mysterious ways!

Two weeks ago, I made a decision. In my blog, I described it as visiting the potter's house. I felt like I had been broken down, and was now allowing God to build me back up in His own design. Well, that "breaking down" had to do with my career in acting - I decided to give it up.

It just seemed so out of context with the things I want to do now. Not that we can't use acting and drama to tell the story of the gospel. I'm actually a huge advocate for using drama for that purpose. My only complaint was - I was not getting those opportunities! I was spending countless hours and tonnes of energy on auditions that went no where, for shows I didn't want to do. It just didn't make sense anymore. I decided that I would call my agent and break it all off. I told my family, and they told me they would support my decision.

Well, God had a bit of a different plan.

The day I was going to call my agent to tell him "God's" plan for me, my agent called with an audition for me. This was not a theatre audition, but a commercial audition. I accepted the audition, with a full plan to call my agent again the next day to call everything off.

Then I received a second phone call.

This time, it was for a call back, or second audition. They liked me and wanted to see me again! I took the second audition, and started to plan my big acting cancellation for the next day.

Then I received a third phone call!

I got the gig! After months of not being on set, I booked a major commercial with a print ad campaign. This is huge! Work has been scarce lately, plus I will not be able to work this summer while I'm in Nashville, so this paycheque is a huge relief at the perfect time!

I shot the commercial today, and it was a wonderful experience. I got to talk about music and sing a little. I got to eat chocolates from the Nutty Chocolatier (my favourite!), wear a gorgeous silk dress, and even play with a sweet little canary. Off camera, I got to tell people about gospel music and the singing schools.

On my way home, I started to think about that phone call to my agent. Maybe God just wanted me to take more time with my decision? Maybe He wants me to keep some options open? Maybe I shouldn't just ditch it all at once? After all, God has given me my talent in acting. Who am I to decide how it shall be used?

So, after much prayer and listening, and with the support of my family, this is my decision - For the time being, I am going to stop auditioning for theatre. I will put those skills on the back burner til God wants me to use them again. Practically speaking, it's too hard to commit to a play right now anyways - it's too long a contract when we're hoping to move in the fall. Also, theatre in Toronto can be risqué and I don't want to do things that will conflict with my message and ministry. I am, however, going to keep on auditioning for TV and commercials. The time commitment is short, so it doesn't conflict with my time for music. The content will always be clean, as TV is still a family-based medium. And it will help fund our way to Nashville - definitely a plus!

What am I trying to say by telling this convoluted story?

Sometimes when God speaks, you can't just catch the headline.
Sometimes, you have to wait til He's told you the whole story.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Unite in Worship - Day 3

Today was awesome, but it's been a long few days, so I'm glad it's done!

This morning started with music by Craig Davis, and our speaker was Chris Seay. Chris is young and cool and a family man. He pastors a church in Texas, and he spoke about many things, but his starting point was this: Often we open the Bible and ask, "God, what you do want me to do?", but we should really be asking, "God, who am I?". From there, Chris talked about our role as artists in the church, and the importance of creativity in spreading the Gospel. He emphasized the importance of beauty and truth in our art, and how those are the elements that will attract people to our songs and writing, and that's how souls are saved. He also talked about the importance of actually living IN the world and in our culture. So many Christians like to separate themselves from the rest of the community. They hide themselves in the cloister of the church and fellow Christians. But when Jesus was on Earth, he went deep into the communities and spoke to all kinds of people. He recognized that there was valuable work to be done in the messiest, dirtiest parts of town. So important for us all to remember!

My first session was a songwriting panel with Noel Richards and Robin Mark. There were some technical questions addressed, but most people asked about tools for opening up their creativity. I just wanted to shout, "Read the Artist's Way!". Robin really emphasized using your whole life in a song. Get to know all about yourself and use it all in your songs.

This afternoon, we had a presentation by Door 217, a music ministry for terminally ill patients and their caregivers. This family is creating a line of cds that can be distributed in hospitals, nursing homes, and anywhere than is involved in palliative care. The music is soothing and uplifting. As someone with too much experience with grief, I really appreciate what they are trying to do.

My second session was incredible! It was, again, with Andy Piercy, and he was talking about recording songs. He is just so smart and so full of information. I wish we could have talked all day! The session actually ran so far over time that we all had to be asked to leave the room. So brilliant!!!

My final session was on communication with Jason Hildebrand. I'm sure for most people it was great, but it really wasn't what I needed. About 15 minutes in, I realized this was Acting 101 For Non-Actors, and by then it was too late for me to leave without being completely rude. Deep breathing, being open to your audience, blah, blah, blah. Don't get me wrong - It's great and important stuff. But I did 4 years of theatre school. I really didn't need another hour of it today.

Overall, I'm really glad I went to this conference. I learned a tonne of stuff, heard some amazing music, and met some great people. I also had a revelatory moment last night. I'm not ready to talk about it yet, cause it's going to involve some changes that will affect other people. But it's all good. It's actually so good!

Let's just say: I have visited the potter, and I have been broken!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Unite in Worship - Day 2

Long and awesome day! The morning began with more wonderful music by Robin Mark. Our keynote speaker was Ruth Haley Barton, who spoke about finding God in solitude and silence. It was a heavy topic for nine-in-the-morning, but just so good! Her speaking style was gentle and intimate, and she led us through her own journey of finding a discipline of solitude and silence. She also spoke a lot about the barriers we create to prevent us from sitting in that place, and how we can fight those barriers. Finally, she brought us into a brief time of silence. I just loved her talk. I even bought her book. (Poor, Visa! Working so hard these days!)

My first seminar was on Improving Worship Leading Skills, and I was so excited about this one. I'm starting to do a little worship leading, and I truly desire to learn more about this skill. Our workshop leader was Andy Piercy, who's from Holy Trinity Brompton in England, which is famous for being the home church of Nicky Gumbel and the Alpha course. (Love the Alpha course!) Andy gave us lots of tips and guidelines for leading worship, but the best of the bunch had to be "love your congregation". What simple advice, yet something so few of us have consciously considered. In loving them, you want to earn their trust, and then lead them into a joyous and accessible worship experience. Andy was awesome! I could have studied with him all day.

I missed the mid-day section as I had to run downtown to teach a baby-music class, but I got back in time for Robin Mark's talk entitled Warrior Poets of the 21st Century. This was great! I've heard the term "warrior poet" before in discussions of archetypes, but Robin used a story from Judges to show the role and importance of warrior poets in the church and in society today. He helped us all to see our personal role as warrior poets, and then brought it around to show how Jesus was the ultimate warrior poet. Just so powerful!

In a side story, Robin told us how he has no real education in music. His degrees are in business and math and such. He didn't start to play guitar til he was 20. And yet God has chosen him to write songs that bless people around the world. What an awesome testimony! If God wants us in His service, He will give us the tools we need!

Our evening musical worship was led in 2 parts. The first was by Vicky Beeching, a young worship leader from the UK. She was at the conference last year, with a few songs and an EP. This year, she's back from a stint in Nashville and a new full-length CD. She's obviously doing well - everyone there knew her songs! Our second leader was Paul Baloche, who's written such songs as "Open the Eyes of My Heart" and "Above All". What great energy! He's just full of joy, and he filled the house with praise.

Our speaker tonight was Mike Breen, an ANGLICAN vicar from England! He was very funny and charming, with a great message called The Grace of Evangelism. He started by saying that most of us have some fear and hesitancy about sharing our faith with others. But he then reminded us of how Jesus prepared his disciples for ministry, and from that lesson, he gave us tools to use in finding opportunities to talk about our faith. I'm not from an evangelical background, and I will completely admit that I've never brought anyone to Christ, nor have I even invited anyone to Christ. But Mike's talk encouraged us all to simply be ready for the moment when someone asks about our faith. Have an answer when someone says, "What's your secret?"

It's been a long day. I'm drained and invigorated. Looking forward to tomorrow ...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Unite in Worship - Day 1

Tonight is the start of a three day conference here in Toronto called Unite in Worship. The next few days are full of workshops, keynote speakers, and awesome music. There are lots of topics, including youth and children's ministry, but I'll be focusing on the worship leading workshops.

Most of the music for the conference is praise and worship, and I have to say: This is not my favourite kind of music. Yes, there are some great praise songs. But overall, I find the lyrics are too simplistic for my taste, and the repetition drives me nuts. Sixteen repeats of "God, you're good" is not particularly inspiring for me. That said, I get the importance of this music, and I can't help but be amazed by the impact it's having on people. It's drawing people to the church and to God, and you can't brush off the importance of that.

I have a lot to learn about leading worship, and I feel this conference is one of the best opportunities for doing this. In just a few days, I'll get to experience the worship styles of at least 8 different bands and leaders, plus songwriting seminars, recording information, and keynote speakers. That's just good learning! In addition, despite my non-love of most praise and worship music, I just think it's so important to keep exposing yourself to different styles of worship and music. As a musician and songwriter, it's critical to take in all kinds of music. But as a Christian, I also think it's important not to get stuck in the my-worship-is-the-best-worship situation.

Tonight opened with a worship session led by Robin Mark. Robin has achieved some fame for an awesome praise song, Days of Elijah. (I told you I liked some praise songs. This is one of them!) He led music for about an hour with his band, which included some beautiful Celtic details with flute and recorders. He ended the set with Days, and it was amazing! To sing the song, led by the man who wrote it, with a great band, and a completely psyched-up audience was just incredible. God had already entered the house several songs ago, and now it was time to celebrate!

The keynote speaker tonight was David Edwards, a 6-foot-4 southerner with ADD and a killer sense of humour. At times, he was so quick and so funny you'd think you were watching stand-up. And then in the blink of an eye, he had you turned back to God. He spoke about creating an environment in worship that makes space for, and welcomes, God. He brought us into the book of Exodus, when Moses is about to follow God's plan and is expressing his doubts about his mission. God gives Moses three signs to show the people so that they will believe that he is an ambassador of God. David showed us the lesson in each of these three signs, and related it to how we can prepare ourselves for ministry. He also had some great words to say about researching the Biblical references in the songs you sing. All of this was such a valuable talk for me. As my ministry starts to grow and take shape, it is so important to keep God in the front, and to use it all just to serve him. Tonight was a humbler and a boost all in one shot. (Not quite sure 'humbler' is a noun, but you know what I mean.)

The night ended with the Late Night Cafe, featuring the band newworldson. I heard them last year in a smaller set up, but tonight, they were amazing! They mix sounds of gospel, reggae, soul, and funk to make their own spiritual sound. The audience was tired when they entered the room, but by the end, they were grooving and clapping, and even a little dancing. Very cool, and yet completely focused on God.

Tonight was great, but tomorrow is a very long day. Off for sleep ...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

NSAI Toronto!

I'm so excited! We were scanning around the NSAI web site yesterday (Nashville Songwriters Association International) and we discovered they have a Toronto chapter. Who knew?

This is a great organization, and we fully intended to become members once we moved to Nashville, but with a Toronto chapter, we can get involved right away.

I sent and email and found out there was a meeting tonight. Sooo excited! Gerald wasn't able to go, so I just went solo. The first part of the meeting was an intro for myself and another new member. We also found out about the group's upcoming festival: Tin Pan Alley North. The performers are booked already, but I've volunteered to help out with front of house.

The next part of the meeting was lesson time. Tonight's lesson was "extended rhyme". I'd never really heard of this concept, so it was a great thing for me to learn. We read through the lesson and did a few practical exercises too. I'm working on a new Mother's Day song right now, so maybe I'll try to put it in there.

The final part of the evening was dedicated to song critiques. Because I only found out about the meeting at the last minute, I couldn't get home to get a CD of any recent songs. So I brought in "You Noticed Me". This is a very personal song I wrote after the death of family friend and awesome man of God, Archbishop Edward (Ted) Scott. The song is two years old, and I know I've grown since then. However, I've had so few songs critiqued that any feedback opportunities are good. We played the CD, and then the floor was opened for everyone to give feedback. The overall comments were very good, with some lines and details receiving high praise. The critical feedback was really useful. It was mostly about how to make the song more commercial. I know this is not a song that anyone else would sing, but I do want to write commercially viable songs, so it was great info for me to have.

We've started the process of applying for our work visas. There are a tonne of practical things to do before we can hit Nashville, but creative, artistic, and spiritual things still need to be a priority. I think being involved with this group will be a very good thing for both of us.

"All glory comes from daring to begin!"

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Gaithers in London.

I'm exhausted today after a very late night of awesome gospel singing! Last night, the Gaither Homecoming crowd was performing just outside Toronto. After finishing a full day of work, I jumped in the car and made the two hour drive out to London, ON. The venue was half the size of the ACC, so it was a much more intimate concert than I've seen before.

The opening was great. All the singers walked through the audience singing "Lean On Me" - a great and soulful way to open the show. If you've seen a live Gaither show before, then you know how the rest of the show unfolds - solos in the first half, group singing after intermission. ("Intermission" is really just another word for "CD-buying-time". My poor Visa nearly exploded!) Everyone was in great form. The Booth Brothers sang "I'm Feeling Fine", which has extra significance since our wedding. Ben Speer opened his heart and tore up the stage with "Til the Storm Passes By". Signature Sound just ripped everything apart with their snazzy stylings! I love their arrangement of "Then Came the Morning". It never fails to inspire me and remind we that we are an Easter people! The Isaacs are always awesome. I'm always impressed with their mix of technical skill, great songwriting (especially "Yours and Mine", which they performed last night), and truly anointed praise. They did their fantastic version of "It is Well". It's no secret this is one of my favourite songs of all time, and their arrangement is just so powerful. God just fell upon that place. The air was potent with His presence!

But the musical highlight for me was the newest member of the Gaither gang - pianist Gordon Mote. I am completely in love with this man's music. It is my new official Latest Favourite CD. Gordon is a Nashville session player who is using his talents in ministry. As a session player, I'm sure he's played everything, but his playing last night could only be categorized by one word: Soul. And lots of it! You could hear it in the classic quartet songs, as well as the newer jazzy stuff that GVB is doing. He sang two songs, and they both brought the house down. I had the chance to meet him after the show, and he's so funny! I cannot say it enough: I love this man's music! I hope I get the opportunity to work with him someday. (Yes,subtle hinting!)

The group singing was, as usual, a great way to end the show. Lots of classic SG sung with great gusto. We even got the rare opportunity to hear Mike Allen do a solo. I think people get so used to hearing him drop in those low notes that they forget he's a beautiful singer who can really do justice to a song. The show ended with "Because He Lives" with Charlotte Ritchie on the solo verse. What a voice! I bought some of her tracks. (Thank you, Visa!) We have the same vocal range, so I think they should work well.

I was hesitant about going to the concert last night. I worked all day yesterday and today, so driving two hours there and two hours back, all by myself, was not a wonderful prospect. But I'm so glad I went. It reminded me what I'm aiming for: A career writing and singing gospel music, specifically southern gospel music. To live in Nashville where I will be surrounded by some of the best writers and singers in the world. To travel and bring the music and message to different areas.

But mostly, I just want to use my talents to serve God. Last night, in the concert, I prayed that God would bless my efforts to serve Him. And I reminded myself of the prayer that I started last summer:
"Yes, Lord! Yes, Lord! What ever you ask, I say, Yes, Lord!"